Sunday, January 31, 2010

Introduction to Jungs view on Kundalini Yoga

Carl Jung's interest in Kundalini was awakened around the first World War. During this time he was frequently "wrought up" and experienced that yoga helped him deal with his emotions. Since he was studying his own processes, he often forced himself to get centered without yoga to learn. Jung favored Kundalini yoga. To him it presented a model for the developmental phases of higher consciousness. This was entirely unavailable in western psychology.

Jung was attracted by the rich symbolism and cakra "energy" system that Kundalini offers. The seven cacras are: muladhara (root, at the base of the spine), svathistana, manipura, anahatha, visuddha, ajna and sahasrara (top of the head). These major energy centers are connected through thousands of nadis (channels).

Kundalini represents coiled energy that sits at the base of the spine. Through guided practice this energy can be raised which manifests shakti. Shakti is the primordial cosmic energy that is associated with powerful female creative energy that leads to manifestation. The object is to ascent this energy all through the cakra system which would lead to the blissful union of Siva and Sakti. Eventually leading to transformation of personality.

Jung pointed out that symptoms of the psychologic disease process have meaning when seen through the symbolic cakra processes of Kundalini. He warned against the bio-chemical approach for mental disorders and the pursuit of "wonder" drugs. Jung was ahead of his time as his remarks are even more applicable today.

Jungs interest in yoga was not as a "philosophy and religion", but as a psychology. He saw yoga as the natural process of introversion recognized pathways into the collective unconscious. Working on the internal processes can eventually lead to transformation and changes in personality.

Eventually Jung developed a archetypal regional typography of the psyche through which individual transformation can occur.

Jung recognized the enormous difference between the western world that pursuit a three dimensional model and the eastern world that essentially seeks nirvana. Jung was criticized for his remark that he didn't think that the age old lineage of Kundalini yoga could be adopted by westerners (Christian) and he argued that eventually the West would come up with it's own form of yoga. In addition, the essense of Kundalini yoga is the experimentation and embodiment and not the intellectual pursuit.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga

In 1932 Carl Jung presented four seminars on the Kundalini Yoga to the Psychological Club in Zurich.  This seminar was in response to six lectures given by Wilhelm Hauer.  I just started reading Jung's response in a book edited by Sonuy Shamdasani, The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga.

So far, this book is an interesting read about the intersect of Kundalini Yoga and Psychology--two of my passions.  In true Jungian form, the text can be dense and difficult (see Diary of a Mad Man? Carl Jung's Red Book Finally Published) to understand.  But I'm definitely enjoying the book and it inspires me for my journey this coming week: I will be participating in a  Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training Level 1 at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.  Personally, I have practiced Kundalini Yoga for almost two years and look forward to immersing myself into the teacher training. Stay tuned as I blog live from Kripalu about the psychology of Kundalini Yoga and my personal experiences starting Saturday.

Raymond Bokenkamp

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Study Shows Antideprresants Work Best for Severe Depression

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania just published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that examined 30 years of antidepressant-drug treatment data. The researchers found that patients with less severe cases of depression showed little to no improvement in their depression compared to those patients with severe depression. The researchers concluded that, "The ability of the antidepressant medications to reduce depressive symptoms varied considerably. For people whose depression was considered to be mild, moderate or even severe, little evidence showed that the medications yield specific benefit beyond what is provided by engagement in treatment and the resulting boost in the patient's expectation for improvement."

This study presents interesting findings that both patients and clinicians should consider during treatment. There are numerous scholarly articles and personal commentaries on the efficacy of antidepressants in adults, just Google this and more than 700,000 links come back. While the stigma of Mental Illness is still pervasive in our culture (see: To Tell or Not To Tell: Mental Illness in the Workplace), I believe that antidepressants actually present less of a stigma. TV is saturated for ads promoting a pill to reduce symptoms of depression, flip through any magazine and you are bound to see an ad for an antidepressant. In addition, many general practitioners will prescribe antidepressants upon request from their patients. Given the authors' findings, it begs the question, are antidepressants over prescribed? Is the physician really looking at the patients' best interest?

For those who deal with mild to moderate depression (and medication just isn't working), there are lots of methods to help ease the symptoms of depression. For example, exercise (see: Choreographed Dance Movement to Promote Health and Balance), mindfulness meditation and talk therapy have been shown to be effective treatments for symptoms of depression.

But to be clear, the Study's lead author, Jay Fournier asserts that “For very severe depressions, the benefits of medications are clear and substantial.”

What are your experiences with antidepressants? Do you think that anti-depressants are over-prescribed?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Website Usability Review:

As part of an ongoing series, every few weeks I will be reviewing various psychology and psychiatry websites with an eye towards user centered design and usability. Hopefully you'll be able to get some ideas on what to do and what to avoid when it comes to your own website.

This week: The Beck Institute (

The Beck Institute has a world-wide reputation for excellence and groundbreaking work in CBT. Not being a CBT specialist, I can't evaluate the quality of the content presented. However, as a usability professional and an interaction designer, I can evaluate some of the user experience expressed on the website.

There are many things good about this website from a usability perspective, but right off the bat, there are a couple of strange things that catch your eye. First, when you navigate to the home page, you are greeted with an extremely long URL. I initially thought I was linked into the wrong place. While it isn't strictly an error or a major problem, it made the experience strange and made me question where I was. Never a good thing on an initial visit.

The other thing that I immediately picked up on was the dual navigation. There is navigation along the left side, and the same navigation elements on the top. At first, I thought there might be different ones, or I was missing something. But no, the two sets of navigation are identical.

There are problems with horizontal navigation, as the website already has run up against. Namely, when you run out of room on horizontal navigation, what do you do? You can allow users to scroll, you can make the font size smaller, or you can make multiple rows of navigation. The Beck Institute decided to do multiple rows. But when they are inconsistent in spacing between each one, you have to read each individual item and evaluate if it is what you are looking for.

But enough about the difficulties, what does the site do well?

Some of the basic design elements are good:
1) dark text on light background, makes it easier for reading
2) a clearly identified logo and title, to indicate where you are and the owners of the site
3) User based navigation

That last requires a bit more explanation. The "For Journalists", and "For Professionals" lets me as a user know that I should click there, that I would find links of interest for me. Theoretically, I would know if I am a journalist or a professional, so I can quickly find what is of interest to me.

While there is some attention paid to denoting where you are, with the top navigation including an underline on the page that you are on, and a sort of breadcrumb visible at the top of each page of content, much of those clues are very subtle on this site. As a result, they can get lost.

Ultimately, this site suffers from some of the same problems that commercial sites do: lost in trying to provide too many things to too many audiences. As a visitor, on the landing page, I am not sure where I want to click next. I'm not sure where the Beck Institute wants me to click next.

One of the most important things to think about: what is the conversation your website is having with your visitors? What is the tone, the style, and the interaction? The Beck Institute seems to be speaking to multiple people all at the same time, and the voices get confusing.

But heck, that's what I think. What do you think? 

HealthPanda offers a therapist directory to help you find all types of Philadelphia therapists and psychologists. Find a therapist that fits all your needs in our fast growing directory today.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ayn Rand: The Personal Toll of Brilliance & Influence

Ayn Rand is often touted as a proponent of destructive selfishness and her fiscal philosophies are cited as a cause of the recent collapse of the financial markets. Like most authors who challenge engrained societal beliefs, Rand gets a bad rap. However, some of her proponents are no better. They love to use Rand’s writings to support ultra-conservative ideals. Poor Miss Rand can’t seem to win.

After taking four months and pounding through all 1300 pages of Atlas Shrugged, I believe Ayn Rand is an incredibly misunderstood author who provides brilliant insight into our society and human nature. Needless to say, I’ve become a big Ayn Rand fan. As with most authors I become obsessed with, I’ve been craving to learn more about her personal life. My good friend sent me an email entitled “Ayn Rand is as ass” (he’s not a fan) with a link to a great interview with author Anne C. Heller who recently wrote a biography about Rand entitled “Ayn Rand and the World She Made.” The interview is wonderful and gives an extremely balanced overview of Rand and her philosophies. But more interesting is Heller’s discussion about Rand’s personal life. According to Heller, Rand had a friendless, torrid childhood in Russia, an open affair with a much younger man, a cult-like group of followers (which included Alan Greenspan), and an undying love for herself and her ideas. My favorite part of the interview is a story Heller tells about an 11 year old Rand writing a paper for school and citing Pascal and Descartes to support the thesis that “childhood is just a bunch of silly games that you play while you wait to grow up.” Maybe Rand’s overly developed sense of reason led not only to her brilliance but also to her delusional narcissism and tattered personal life.

Do you know of an influential philosopher/writer who does not come from a mess of a home life? (I don’t.) Do these influential people create such incredible works because their personal lives are in shambles or do their personal lives get crushed by a self-fulfilling prophecy of never being as great as their creations?

Oh and by the way, poor government regulation of our financial markets did not cause the current economic disaster. Relentlessly question anyone who says otherwise.

Tom Murtaugh

HealthPanda offers a therapist directory to help you find all types of Philadelphia therapists and psychologists. Find a therapist that fits all your needs in our fast growing directory today.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Frontier of Trauma Treatment

In the morning session, Bessel showed several incredible videos. These were case interviews from several extraordinarily skilled therapists. These were the kind of videos of which you want to study every frame.

One of the videos showed a 15 month (or so) old boy with his mom. They were very connected, playing, humming and in synchronicity. At some point the mom had a traumatic memory and she froze. The boy kept humming along, but suspecting something was wrong. Then he started trying to get his mom's attention. Realizing something was wrong he would look to the camera man, but then quickly back to his mom. He would say in semi baby words: "mommy it's me! mommy it's me!!" and cried for a few seconds.

After a minute or so, the mom came back online and quickly returned to synchronicity. When the boy came back for the next visit one month later, the researchers measured increased cortisol when he entered the same room. In other words, the boy remembered and had a traumatic reaction to the previous session. To me this story illustrates how easy it is to cause trauma even by capable, loving parents that are dealing with their own trauma and how much work we have to do on this frontier to break this chain of passing on trauma.

Bessel talked a little bit about Personal Biology. Humans seek social synchronicity and try to get on the same page with others. In fact we have mirror neurons in our brain that get activated when other people act. This explains why so many people enjoy watching TV. Our brain actually sends out mirror signals very similar as if we were doing it ourselves.

The left and right outer brains all deal with social interaction. This is such a big part of human existence. However, the middle part of the brain deals with the self. Specifically, the prefrontal cortex, which gets activated through the Amygdalia. This part is usually under-developed in trauma patients (since a lot of their attention is spent in fight or flight mode). Developing this area is key to trauma patients. It can be accessed through yoga and movement. NOT through social interaction!

In conclusion, I thank both Bessel van der Kolk and Dana Moore for their hospitality and for being on the frontier of trauma treatment. They give us the confidence that trauma can be "out-grown" and there are effective tools available that take 8 weeks to 18 months but will be effective (EMDR, Yoga, IFS, Meditatation, Martial Arts, dance and other movement) under the guidance of a skilled therapist and a positive support system. I witnessed on video how one girl that was severely abused as a child was able to finally return to brain synchronicity and get access to the frontal parts of her brain. Hearing her tell her story with such articulation, authenticity and confidence is incredibly empowering.

I sign off from this assignment with a picture I took in the AM of the beautiful mountains of the Berkshires. To me right now, this picture symbolizes the frontier of human capital. I report to you that I saw it this weekend, it is beautiful and it exists out there, on the horizon. What do we do today to start moving in that direction which, deep down, we all know is the right direction?


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Quieting down the mind & ending the day with music and dance

The afternoon session was lecture based followed by a skills learning session with pairs. Again, van der Kolk spoke intimately with his particular Dutch like sense of humor (of course I can say this because I am from Netherlands myself) and his no nonsense result driven approach.

The key for Trauma patients is to calm down the right part of the primal, reptilian brain. Once this part is quiet, processing and talking is most effective. In fact his research has shown that when the primal brain is aroused it can shut down other parts of the brain. These other areas are critical for making choices, language and creativity. Some of the cutting frontier research in trauma are on the findings that the 6 or so different parts of the brain move in synchronicity during a balanced state, but in trauma patients these part of the brains are like different islands that don't collaborate well. This is referred to as a breakdown in cortical timing. Again movement, getting into senses and feelings are key to quiet down the right part of the primal brain.

Van der Kolk suggests that language usually is to get on the same wavelength with others as we are naturally social beings. However, this group connectedness does not help release trauma. The key to safe and effective processing by the patient is when the patient is connected to their own feelings and self as well as to the therapist. Perhaps this can be described as a skillful dance between patient and therapist.

Speaking of dance, that's how the evening ended for me at Kripalu. I will sign off by including my favorite picture of the day.


Restoring the primal instinct of purpose

We did an early morning yoga session with Dana Moore who is the co-presenter but also a Kripalu trained Yoga Instructor. That was the start of an 8 hour day in class filled with lectures, exercise (getting into the body), as well as instruction later this evening.

The later morning session was by Van der Kolk on the basics of trauma. His lecture was easy to understand and is based both on research as well as 30+ years of working with trauma patients.

His basic premise was that even though trauma may have happened in the past, it can still be present now it there is still attachment to it. The most effective way to release this trauma is through what Darwin called the “Pneumogastric Nerve”, where the heart, guts & brain come together for all animals including humans.

The attachment is important, because when trauma happens it’s not the extend that makes it a traumatic event it’s the attachment to the unresolved issue. His examples were that soldiers in Vietnam who took heroin had much less PTSD due to the non-attachment to the experiences while there (and since heroin addition is situational, the soldiers could relatively easily kick this habit). Another remarkable example was that the level of PTSD of NYC citizens that survived 911 was very low due to the fact that this community came together and was able to resolve the internal emotions as a group in a safe environment.

When trauma is not released, the animal, back part of the brain stays in constant flux and the person lives in what can be described as a state of nothingness. This is the same for animals. Trauma disturbs the primal instinct of purpose.

The solution is through the body since the central nerve to the visceral system comes from the gut. Motion is very important factor in releasing trauma as well as getting in tune with the body. In the end it’s about giving the brain tools to restore itself as well as the primal instinct of purpose. The problem with medicine is that it’s only a bandage and it’s effect decreases quickly as time progresses.

It was a great morning session. Bessal shared his adventures to South Afrika with Bishup Tutu and Nelson Mandela as well as other remarkable experiences from his professional life.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Getting Acclimated & Artistic Surprise

So the workshop doesn't start till 7pm tonight. My job today was to just relax and get acclimated. Well, that is exactly the moment at Kripalu where unusual experiences are bound to happen. For example, this morning, while still very sleepy, I am heading to my usual morning Yoga practice. When I open the door to the space, I find a group of Yogi's in the space. Of course, I was immediately welcomed and in fact the group let me take pictures of their artwork that they have been drawing with Tempera water paint in the last 3 days.

Needless to say I felt extremely fortunate and humbled by this amazing group of artists. More on the Trauma workshop later tonight. Cheers, Cheers --Raymond.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Live Report: Frontiers of Trama Treatment with Bessel van der Kolk

I just arrived at Kripalu after a 5 hour drive, where I am attending the Bessel Van der Kolk workshop called "Frontiers of Trama Treatment. Barely can I hold my excitement for this 2 day workshop starting tomorrow night. I will publish my experience online. Please feel free to comment, start a dialogue, or just pass this on to someone you know that might be interested.

Below you will find the full description as I am getting ready to do some yoga.

More soon!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Inspiration from Self-Inflicted Solitude: Therapy or Psychosis?

I left work late one evening, jumped in my car, turned on the radio and the first thing I heard was “he lived in a cabin for a year and had no connections to the outside world.” I had caught NPR in the middle of an interview with Griffin Dunne who was speaking about his father Dominick Dunne who just passed away in August. I’ll admit I’m not as cultured as I’d like to be and never heard of Dunne (who was a famous author, television producer and personality). However, I was interested in why he decided to cut himself off from humanity and what came out of this period in his life. Doing some light research on Wikipedia, I discovered Dunne went into hiding in 1979 to “overcome personal demons.” (His son said during the NPR interview that elder Dunne was trying to stop drinking.) But most importantly, Dunne wrote his first book during this period. This self-inflicted solitude had been a huge muse for Dunne.

This perfectly timed NPR clip inspired me for two reasons. First, I’ve always had a mild obsession with cutting myself off from the rest of the world as some sort of personal experiment. Second, I have a borderline obsession with Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche wrote his most influential book, Thus Spake Zarathustra, while living in solitude after suffering some traumatic love triangle drama (Read about it here). Nietzsche, like Dunn, placed himself in voluntary isolation where he conceived and wrote the first part of Zarathustra (the best work of his career) in only ten days.

This idea of facing your demons and being left to deal only with yourself is powerful. While it definitely is mildly psychotic it can bring forth some intensely creative energy.

What are your thoughts about these forms of extreme measures to overcome issues in your life? Is the creative by-product a transmutation of negative forces into something positive? Or are such extreme measures childish, attention-driven and narcissistic?

Tom Murtaugh

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Google Sites : build your website for an unbeatable price

If you area considering creating your own web site then Google Sites may be a good option for you. In this article you will learn more about the good and bad about using Google Sites, see some examples and you will be pointed in the right direction if Google Sites interests you.

The best part of Google Sites is that it is virtually free. The cost is $10 per year which includes: domain registration, hosting, multiple email addresses and much more (this is also referred to as Google Apps). Personally I find Google Sites very easy to use. You can create multiple pages, and add content such as text, images and video. In addition, you can also add useful gadgets such as blogs, forms (linked to spreadsheets), photo albums and much more, all by using a simple user interface. More savvy users can edit HTML directly (which is code to layout your website). Finally, each page on your site can be public or restricted to a select group of users. This price and flexibility is all good news and just as we are accustomed from Google it works really well.

What I don't like about Google Sites is that the navigation menu as well as the general layout is rigid and the look and feel cannot be altered much (without serious head-aches anyhow). For example it is not possible to change the padding, font-size of the menu bar or to layout the menu items horizontally. So in essence you are stuck with the Google Sites "look and feel". For more advanced users it is also not possible to add CSS (other than in attributes), JavaScript or any database back-end. However you can write your own gadgets using XML, CSS, HTML and Javascript that are hosted separately.

Overall, Google Sites is a good option to quickly design a website. If you like the hosting price and features but you don't have time to design your website then an option is to hire a graphic design firm such as Bokenkamp Consulting to help you develop your website in Google Sites.

Google Site Examples:"

Getting Started:

Introduction Video + 6 Additional Sample Templates

Raymond Bokenkamp MS, MBA

HealthPanda offers a therapist directory to help you find all types of Philadelphia therapists and psychologists. Find a therapist that fits all your needs in our fast growing directory today.